Albemarle County Service Authority
(ACSA) and the
Albemarle County Planning Commission
have held a rare joint meeting that was designed to foster greater cooperation and communication between the two bodies. The November 18, 2008 meeting covered topics ranging from better ways to share information, the Planning Commission’s initial thoughts on a future sewer line, and whether homeowners with septic fields in the development area should be compelled to connect to water and sewer service.
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“These are two bodies that interact through staff, but don’t have an opportunity to sit down around the table and just hear where the other body is coming from,” Morris said.
The first topic for discussion covered how much information the Planning Commission should see on a project’s impacts on water and sewer infrastructure before making a decision on a rezoning. Wayne Cilimberg, the County’s Director of Planning, said that ACSA, Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority and Community Development staff met before the joint meeting to discuss ways to streamline the exchange of information. Cilimberg said ACSA staff want to receive more data on proposed projects, including square footage, the number of dwelling units requested, and building heights.
“Also, an interest was expressed that we try to determine where within projects there may be existing public lines and easements needed so that developers are aware of what they need to make allowance for,” Cilimberg said. “We talked a little about Albemarle Place as one example of a project that actually did very early in its review… have identified the limitations of the Meadowcreek Interceptor.”
However, while the RWSA and the ACSA were aware that the interceptor could not accommodate the full build-out of
, that information did not stop the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors from approving a rezoning in 2003. One recent innovation has been that County planning staff is now sending packets to the RWSA as well as the ACSA for their review.
“It’s safe to say in the rezoning process that you don’t normally have the specific details pinned down and it’s a little tough to know how the mix of uses will play out over years. These projects can be 5, 10, 20 year projects. Realizing that, there’s still some good information on what both authorities have in their plans for infrastructure, [how] developers believe their projects are going to develop in terms of phasing and timing, and try to mesh those two together to have a better understanding of how the projects going to fit in the bigger picture.”
Gary Fern, Executive Director of the ACSA, said his organization knows that developers often do not have a full picture of how their projects will be developed. But, he wants developers to share whatever information they can. Fern explained that the ACSA will enter into agreements with developers to assure that infrastructure will be in place when it is needed. A recent example of this is the agreement signed by the developers of Biscuit Run to guarantee they will pay for the upgrades to the Biscuit Run Interceptor when it reaches 80% of its capacity.
Commissioner Marcia Joseph (At-Large) remarked that the ACSA is not present during rezoning, unlike the Virginia Department of Transportation, which weighs in on the necessary transportation infrastructure required. She called for the ACSA to find a way to become more transparent in communicating its needs in future developments.
The second topic for the meeting concerned the ACSA’s future infrastructure needs. The ACSA is currently preparing the plans for a
North Fork Regional Pump Station
that could satisfy capacity in Albemarle’s northern development area until 2030. After that, the ACSA is considering the possibility of building a gravity-fed sewer line along the North Fork Rivanna River to take sewage to the Moores Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant.
ACSA Member John Martin (White Hall) expressed the concern that a gravity sewer line would open the nearby rural area to development. “There a lot of land there that is owned by developers who obviously think it’s in the rural area and they’re going to [have a ]view to develop it someday,” Martin said. “Maybe they should, and maybe we’re going to need it. But, we have to be careful making the decisions. Building that pipeline could accelerate that process when we don’t want to.”
Planning Commissioner Tom Loach (White Hall) said it would be prudent to make those decisions within the context of the master planning process. Commissioner Eric Strucko (Samuel Miller) said he wanted to see a specific plan before weighing in.
Wayne Cilimberg said that there was a precedent for running water and sewer lines through the rural area, pointing to the Crozet interceptor and the extension of water lines to the Village of Rivanna. ACSA Attorney Jim Bowling said a water line to Stillhouse Mountain is another example.
“If the political will is there, there’s nothing wrong with a cross-country interceptor, a limited access interceptor,” Bowling said. Strucko said that the County’s policy of not developing the rural areas had stood up over time. Loach was less confident and said decisions made by the Board of Supervisors can always change the Comprehensive Plan. Commissioner Linda Porterfield (Scottsville) said the County should be doing whatever it can to look at new land that can be developed in order to boost economic development.
ACSA Board Member Jim Colbaugh (Scottsville) said that a gravity-fed sewer line would be more optimal than a pumped line from an engineering perspective. He also said that many septic tanks along the span of the North Fork Rivanna River could fail, and that should be taken into consideration.
Another topic concerned whether homes in the ACSA’s jurisdictional area (roughly the development area) should be compelled to connect to water and sewer lines. Some homes in the Northfields subdivision are reluctant to connect because they would be forced to pay a large connection fee in order to do so. Martin said there are many different opinions on how to proceed. Don Wagner said that in his 25 years on the ACSA Board, the Department of Health has never made that a requirement.
Loach asked how big a problem the County faced with failing septic fields. Fern said that there are other subdivisions that have pockets of failing systems that the ACSA would like to connect, but the issue comes with how to pay for it.
“If we do it with our rates, existing ratepayers would pay for expansion of the system, and the service authority’s mantra has been growth pays for growth,” Fern said. Colbaugh said the ACSA would gladly extend service to existing subdivisions, but that all existing homeowners would not be willing to spend the money to connect. He estimated that only 25% would pay to connect. Loach asked if there were any ways to finance the construction, echoing the same questions made when the ACSA met with the Board of Supervisors. Palmer said the ACSA is in a ‘discovery phase’ of trying to find additional solutions.
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